A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Guerilla Insurgency: The Springboard to Terrorism?

Guerilla Insurgency: The Springboard to Terrorism?


Project Details


This project generated findings about the use of terrorism by insurgents, using time-series analysis of the trajectory of insurgent campaigns, integrated with data on terrorist events from the Global Terrorism Database. Data on insurgent campaigns was developed by the project team, from open sources, for this analysis.

Primary Findings: 

The use of terrorism varies significantly across armed groups engaged in insurgencies against central governments. Among insurgencies that escalated into large-scale civil wars, 77% of these armed conflicts included some terrorist attacks while among non-civil war insurgencies only 37% involved terrorist attacks. Similarly, among insurgent groups about 52% engaged in terrorism during civil wars whereas only 31% of such groups resorted to terrorism in non-civil war insurgencies. The frequency of terrorist attacks also varied substantially. Among those groups that used terrorism, 90% resorted to less than 100 attacks, while only about 4% of all groups engaged in more than 200 terrorist attacks.

Preliminary findings have been produced on the relationship of terrorism to civil war onset, civil war duration, and civil war outcomes. First, higher numbers of terrorist attacks are associated with the escalation of low level insurgencies into large-scale civil wars. Second, the duration of civil wars increases as the number of terrorist attacks increases. Third, civil wars are more likely to end in outcomes favorable to insurgent groups as the total number of terrorist attacks in the civil war increases


A new data set of civil war insurgencies from 1980-2008 was collected and then the GTD was integrated into the insurgency data set at the insurgent group level. This provided information on the total number of terrorist attacks committed by insurgent groups and the distribution of those attacks over the duration of the insurgency. Statistical tests were then conducted on the integrated insurgency/terrorism data set to determine the relationship between terrorist attacks by insurgent groups and civil war onset, duration, and outcomes.


Project Period: 
June 2008 to August 2011